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The history of Nuffield – part 4

A look back

Looking back over twenty years as secretary and Director of the Trust, I can say, with hand on heart, that the Trust has given a tremendous boost to World agriculture in its broadest sense.

The search for leaders in the industry, in the Technical, Commercial or Political fields of agriculture, has been rewarded with fine crops of Scholars who have made their mark. In Australia and New Zealand the political and commercial aspects have been dominant with so many leaders coming from the ranks of Nuffield Scholars that the Nuffield influence in each country is enormous. In such countries, where technical know how in stock and grassland management is very advanced, it is, perhaps, understandable that less emphasis has been on the Technical. This is not to say that there have been no technical achievements. The turf industry in Australia originated in the scholarship to Bill Casimaty who has built a little empire stretching even back to UK. Many scholars returned home with “agencies” for UK and European products and one at least bought a new farm on the receipts from eartags.

More surprising, perhaps, is the return from UK scholars. In early days scholars returned home full of ideas which, because of poor communications, had not yet reached us. It is perhaps understandable, therefore, that most of the dramatic new ideas came in the early days, but recently there has been a resurgence and it has been encouraging to see returning scholars using the ideas gained abroad, to further their businesses.

What is most encouraging is the fact that a succession of able leaders in the Trust, have nailed their colours to the mast in the search for the very best scholars, and in the demand that standards be maintained at the highest level. There is no substitute for quality. Perhaps we are awarding too many scholarships for a shrinking industry to sustain and perhaps too many of the awards are not going to practising farmers and growers, but whilst the quality is maintained and the money available no harm can come.

A look forward

If the 50th Anniversary of the Trust is a good enough reason for reminiscence, and, yes, for congratulation also, then it must also be a moment for reflection and reassessment. Times do indeed change and the agricultural revolution of the past half century has surpassed anything that has gone before. Nuffield too has changed and adapted and will continue to do so. More than anything, it must build on success. That success resides in the character of those who are proud to call themselves “Nuffields”.

There are those who regard the award of a Scholarship as an end in itself. A tour made, experienced absorbed, and a return home to practice. But for the majority it is, and should be, much more than that. It should be for a lifetime – of learning, of leading, and of giving in return for what one has taken.

One of the encouraging developments, which I initiated, had been the formation of the Study Groups, in which Scholars of a shared common interest come together to explore and discuss matters of concern to their sector of the industry. The first was the Dairy Study group whose first meeting was attended by the Director of ADAS and which explored Dairy Research in depth. Later Groups were formed for Beef and Sheep; Poultry ( a group which travels the world – Japan and South Africa and USA); Arable Crops; and the Moneymakers. Of course individuals gain commercial knowledge but, just as important, they can give something back to their industry and remain an essential part of the Nuffield family.

There are questions of organisation that will have to be answered. How should we react to one of the really fundamental changes that have taken place in farming – that of the enormous reduction in manpower? Not only are there many fewer farmers, but, for the first time, there are fewer farmworkers than farmers. There are large numbers of farmers who employ no-one and, in consequence, find it difficult, if not impossible, to get away for the two months minimum. Yet, very probably, they are the very ones who would benefit most from such a period of stimulation.

For eligibility, there has already been a substantial shift away from just farmers to much wider definition, to include many who are employed in the wider agriculture. How far should that go? Are we indeed awarding too many scholarships at around eighteen a year? Should there be some sharper definition of the subject to be studied to take account of the shrinking world of agriculture, the agri-policies of GATT and the entry of Eastern Europe to the KU? Should the groupings of what were the old Commonwealth countries plus France be expanded? Bringing in the French scholar, I count as one of my most successful achievements. Should other countries such as South Africa, be encouraged to come or do we risk harmful dilution?

For certain there will be many other knotty questions to be debated – equally certain is the fact that, in Nuffield, we have the structure, and, far more important, the individuals, who can and will carry the organisation forward and build on the achievements of the last half century.

It is often said that agriculture is less important than it used to be – or rather that its main duty is to conserve the environment, whatever that may be taken to mean. We should be in no doubt that not only must man eat to live but that, as mankind continues to increase and multiply, food production worldwide will become of even greater significance. And, moreover, that production must be both civilised and sustainable in the widest sense of the word. Nuffield can and will continue to play a very important role in doing just that.

Go to: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4

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